May 19, 2012

The Sovereignty of God and Human Government

Why is it important to know what God's opinion is about governments and their rulers? Because God is sovereign. And this doesn’t just mean that God controls all beings and all things, but also that He possesses full rights over all things, including over the civil authorities.

This is why God presents Himself in the Holy Scriptures as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Those who rule the nations are under His authority and derive their authority from Him, even when they do not recognize it.

That is what Paul teaches in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (vv. 1-2). Earthly governors possess authority because God invested it in them. In John 19:11 the Lord Jesus says to Pilate: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Pilate’s authority, ultimately, is not derived from Caesar, but from God Himself. This scriptural truth has far-reaching repercussions.

First, it implies that God alone has the right to define the function of rulers and to limit their authority.

What are human governments supposed to do? How far does their authority extend? What standard of justice should they cause to prevail? How are rulers supposed to to behave? The only one who can respond to these questions is God Himself, since it is He who instituted civil authority.

Second, this means that national rulers do not possess absolute power, since their authority is delegated, subordinate to the authority of God.

One of the most powerful rulers of antiquity was Nebuchadnezzar, the great Babylonian king; but when this king started to be overcome by his pride, Daniel had to remind him of this truth from the Scriptures: “You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory” (Daniel 2:37 NKJV). The authority that rulers possess is an authority which has been delegated to them.

But this also implies that national rulers are responsible before God for the exercise of their authority and one day will have to give an account before Him for the stewardship with which they were entrusted. In Romans 13 Paul refers to magistrates as “servants of God.” Even though they do not recognize themselves as such, that is what they are, servants of God Almighty, called to perform a specific task for the common good.

That is why the first duty of a ruler is to submit himself to the authority of God. In Psalm 2:10-11 David says: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise [the idea is to act with discretion, instead of opposing God, submit to Him]; be warned, O rulers of the earth [allow yourselves to be taught]. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (ESV).

The God of Scripture is sovereign; He possess full rights over everything created, including human governments. His sovereignty even extends to the kings of the earth. And as His ministers, we have the responsibility to proclaim what He has revealed in His Word concerning these things.

In our next post we will look at the common grace of God and human governments; in order to consider what a ruler should be like, according to the general principles of God’s Word.

 © by Sugel Michelén. Originally published on the author’s blog Todo Pensamiento Cautivo, as La soberanía de Dios y los gobernantes humanos. Translated into English with permission by Penn Tomassetti. You can reproduce and distribute this material, as long as it is without charge, without altering its content, and with recognition of its author and origin.

May 18, 2012

Facing the Next Election as a Christian

Considering all the talk about presidential candidates and future elections, this post is fitting for any concerned citizen to consider.

Facing the Next Election as a Christian 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Russian writer who won the Nobel prize of literature in 1970, on one occasion announced these words: "More than 50 years ago, when I was a child, I remember having heard many older people offer the following explanation for the great disaster that had fallen upon Russia: 'Men have forgotten God; and that is why all these things have happened.' Since then I have dedicated a little less than 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and contributed up to eight of my own volumes in the effort to clear the ashes left from the catastrophe. But if you asked me today to give the most precise formulation possible for the main cause of this ruinous revolution which has devoured more than 60 million of our own people, I could not express it more precisely than to repeat: 'Men have forgotten God; and that is why all these things have happened.'" (J. S. Feinberg & P. D. Feinberg; Ethics for a Brave New World; chapt. 14)

Solzhenitsyn saw a direct relationship between the established politic of the Soviet Union as a root of the revolution's Bolshevik triumph, with all the consequences the revolution brought with it, and the atheism which sustained the ideology of those who promoted it.

Ideas have consequences. How you think will determine how you live, the decisions you take, the things you value; it will determine the course of your life. That’s why Solomon said in Proverbs 23:7 that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. We have all spent years acquiring, consciously and unconsciously, a collection of ideas that we assume are good and valid; and it is this collection of presuppositions which form our "worldview", the view we hold of the world and the point of reference we use to interpret data from the world surrounding us. Even though not everyone is crucially conscious of it, everyone has a point of reference formed by their most basic beliefs, and which influences every area of their lives, including their perspectives on politics.

That is why we insist on the fact that Christianity is much more than a message about the salvation of sinners through the person and redemptive work of Christ; Christianity provides an adequate point of reference for interpreting things as they are and for interacting with them consequently.

Christians behave in a distinct way from those who are not Christian because they have a different worldview, another perspective on things; and that distinct Christian perspective must govern us during the next election day when we go to exercise our right to vote.

It is lamentable that many Christians relate their Christianity only to that which fits within the “spiritual life” compartment. They behave like Christians when they go to church, when they meet with family for times of devotion, or when they read the Scriptures in private. But when they involve themselves in business activities, when they are having fun or when they go to the polls to vote for a candidate, they do so as any other unbeliever would do. These people suffer from a very common illness: lack of integrity.

The word “integrity” comes from the Latin “integritas” which means “quality of the whole, entire, soundness, to be complete”. A person with integrity does not divide their life into compartments: “I act like a saint, as a Christian, in this area over here and in that other area over there, but everywhere else I act like a pagan.” No. The man of integrity is the same wherever he goes, he is not double-minded. The very principle that guides his relationship with God and his spiritual life is the very same principle that guides him when it is time to choose a candidate.

In the next article, I would like to focus on the profile the Lord gives us in His Word for a good governor. However I do want to say beforehand that I do not intend to tell you which of the current presidential candidates you should vote for. If you begin to read between the lines you might seem to find indications here and there that reveal the “hidden message” that we supposedly would like to get across in this article; but there really is no hidden message to unveil. What we want to say is what we are going to say and no more.

We are expounding this theme because we have the scriptural conviction that we should teach the church the whole counsel of God, in such a way that Christians learn to act as Christians in every area of life. God has left us an abundance of information in His Word about governors and governments. Our duty as pastors is to pass on to you that information so that each one of you can exercise your right to vote in this next election with an informed conscience.

© by Sugel Michelén. Originally published in the author’s blog Todo Pensamiento Cautivo, as El Cristiano frente a las próximas elecciones. Translated into English with permission by Penn Tomassetti. You can reproduce and distribute this material, as long as it is without charge, without altering its content, and with recognition of its author and origin.

May 16, 2012

God's Children Don't Sin

4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
(1 John 3:4-10 ESV) 

Earlier in this letter, John explained that speaking the truth about knowing Jesus Christ means having the actions to back up such a claim. Nobody who merely says they are Christian should be regarded as one if they do not do what Jesus commands.

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
(1 John 2:1-6)

The reason Christians do not sin is that they are God's children, children of light and not of darkness. If they were still in the world of darkness, unbelief and sin, they would have no problem living a sinful, self-righteous, or licentious lifestyle. But now they belong to God and have His seed within them through the work of the Holy Spirit in them. They will not do as the apostates do, who turn from the truth to practice lawlessness. Even if they do sin, they confess it and continue to repent. They cannot sin in the sense of ultimately turning from Christ. He guards them as His own. He set them free from Satan and made them new after the image of God, who loves righteousness.

Obedience is the sign of true and saving faith, not the root of it. It is the fruit that grows out of the tree planted in the soil stained with the Lord's blood. Those who do not have the works to back up their faith, simply do not have faith. But take heart if this worries you, God gives faith as a gift to all whom He chose for salvation before the foundation of the world.

Jesus Christ is the advocate in the sense that He appeals to the Father on behalf of sinners who repent and trust in Him. He has been raised to everlasting life, so His appeals will always be accepted before our God and Father. He is also their propitiation in the sense that His life was given over to death in exchange for sinners who repent and trust in Him. All of their sins are propitiated by His blood, so that they are completely forgiven forever and ever. Whoever does not repent and trust in Him is not forgiven through His blood. Not yet...

But if you turn to Jesus and repent and submit to Him as your Lord and God, doing what He says and not hearing it only, then you have faith and your life will begin to change. And when you commit errors and do not live in perfect obedience to the Lord, your confession of those sins to Jesus, your sadness and willingness to change and obey, will show that you are not sinning in the sense that John described about those who are not genuine. Seek the Lord and do what He says, but remember that He saves by grace as a gift through faith alone. Your works of obedience are simply His power in you causing you to live out your salvation in real life.

God bless!